A Boston man who was eager to testify against alleged mobster James "Whitey" Bulger was found dead, authorities announced on Thursday. The body of Stephen "Stippo" Rakes, 59, was found Wednesday afternoon in Lincoln, Mass., a suburb on the outskirts of Boston, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and Lincoln Police Chief Kevin Mooney announced.
There were "no obvious signs of trauma" and an autopsy is being conducted to determine the cause of death, authorities said.
"We really need our privacy and we are trying to get that message out," Rakes' ex-wife, Julie Dammers, told The Boston Herald. "My family is trying to deal with it."
Initially, police told Rakes' family members that the death appeared to be a suicide, ABC News reported. However, Steve Davis, who was a close friend of Rakes, said it didn't make sense, ABC reported. Davis regularly met Rakes before court each day, but was unable to reach him since Tuesday night.
"Stippo would not kill himself," Davis, whose sister, Debbie, was allegedly murdered by Bulger, told ABC. "He was looking forward to taking the stand."
Rakes had been on the witness list in the trial of Bulger, 83, who is accused of ordering or committing 19 unlawful killings throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Rakes wanted to testify that he was a victim of extortion and that Bulger had forced him to hand over his liquor store in the mid-1980s, but he was taken off the witness list earlier this week, according to the Agence France-Presse.
"I'm not afraid of him anymore. I can't wait to get on the stand and look him right in the eyes," Rakes told The Boston Herald last month. "I come here to represent the victims that are afraid to come here. My friends. That's why I'm showing up."
But Rakes' claims were discredited when another witness for the prosecution, Kevin Weeks, said Rakes had sought to sell the store to Bulger and his partner Stephen Flemmi, The Boston Globe reported.
Although Rakes has said Bulger ordered him at gunpoint to sell the store, Weeks, a former associate of Bulger's, said the two had agreed to buy the store from Rakes for $100,000. But before the deal was finalized, Weeks said Rakes demanded more money, according to The Boston Globe.
It was at that point, Weeks testified, that the men pulled out a gun and threatened Rakes unless he sold the store.
Flemmi, 79, also briefly took the stand on Thursday, testifying that Bulger was an informant for the FBI. Bulger has claimed he did not deliver information to the FBI, according to NBC News.
Flemmi, who is expected to testify again on Friday, described Bulger as "overbearing" and "forceful," and said their relationship was "strictly criminal."